Media houses are once again spotlighting the political campaigns ahead of the 9th August general elections, with every day bringing its own news and drama. In their coverage, you can easily tell which political persuasion each media house is favouring.
Never mind that a cardinal rule in media – and indeed journalism – is being non-partisan and unbiased in coverage. That rule is often observed more in breach as newsrooms get converted into political parties’ bureaus during elections. Some media houses are forced to reshuffle journalists to position themselves for elections while others even push out journalists they feel are not politically correct.
This year is no different. Already, the battle lines on the political field have been drawn. It’s a two-horse race between ODM’s Raila Odinga and UDA’s William Ruto, Kenya’s Deputy President. The media industry is also taking up after these horses.
A quick analysis based on coverage and sentiment shows majority of media houses are drumming up support for Raila Odinga, who is leading the Azimio La Umoja Kenya One Alliance, and also being supported by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Even the Media Council of Kenya report on coverage shows a clear bias in terms of number of stories per candidate.
We look at how main media houses are voting in this election, especially after few weeks ago Mr Ruto protested against unfair coverage by a section of the media and threatened to boycott the presidential debate organized by media owners.
1. NATION MEDIA GROUP
NMG is Kenya’s largest media house with four newspapers – Nation, Business Daily, Taifa Leo and The East Africa. It also runs NTV and Nation FM. Nation, its flagship product, is the most respected in the newspaper industry and holds sway among the reading masses. Most politicians would love their article and photo on the Nation – be it daily, Saturday or Sunday.
From its tone of reporting, Nation has been showing a soft spot for Raila Odinga and being more critical of William Ruto. Raila, being supported by President, has become more of the incumbent.
Nation’s support for Raila is not by accìdent. First, NMG has strategically placed pro-system editors in its echelons to ensure the newspapers and TV toe the line. NMG’s principal owner is His Highness the Aga Khan, who always supports the government of the day. This is understandable as he has huge business interests in Kenya – media, banking, insurance, real estate and hospitality – which need to be safeguarded.
So NMG, while its editors may not readily admit, is vouching for Raila Odinga. As such, even its other newspapers and broadcast stations are doing so. Nation, though, is very clever at blowing hot and cold and it would take only a keen observer to read between their lines.
2. STANDARD GROUP
Standard newspaper and its TV arm KTN have always supported the opposition, strategically to brand itself as independent media. Its popularity has always ridden on Raila Odinga’s wave, since he has always found himself on the opposition side in past elections. This time round Standard finds itself supporting the same guy but the positioning has changed. Raila is being backed by the incumbent and now part of the so-called system.
Standard’s coverage is also guided largely by the Moi family, who are the main shareholders in the company. Gideon is the family’s representative at the company and keenly watches how Standard and KTN cover politics. Editors and CEOs have been fired for going against the unwritten rules of not reporting negatively on Moi’s interests or promoting politicians seen to be on the opposite side of Gideon’s. Last year, KTN was forced to let go Peter Opondo in circumstances related to giving more coverage to the Deputy President, who is battling for popularity in Rift Valley with Mr Moi.
3. ROYAL MEDIA SERVICES
RMS, which is anchored by Citizen TV, has been the most obvious supporter of Raila Odinga. It gives more airtime to Odinga’s activities at the expense of Ruto. It seems, if situation allowed, RMS radio and TV stations wouldn’t cover Ruto at all unless for negative reasons. Being the market leader, being backed by Citizen TV has significant impact.
Pity, if you will, the journalists who work for RMS media outlets – Citizen TV, Radio, Inooro TV and Ramogi among other platforms. They must learn to bend professional rules to appease their employer, S.K. Macharia, who has a long bosom history with Raila Odinga. It’s said they sufféred together under the Moi regime. SK as he tried to set up Citizen Radio – and eventually TV – and Raila as he fought for political space and pluralism in Kenya.
S.K. is occasionally seen in Raila Odinga’s major events. RMS has always supported Raila without pretense. It’s only in the last election that RMS sort of tried to balance between Raila and President Uhuru Kenyatta who was seeking re-election.
3. MEDIAMAX NETWORKS
Let’s begin by getting it that Mediamax – which owns People Daily, K24 TV and a number of radio stations – is owned by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family. President Kenya is backing Raila Odinga for the presidency. It’s obvious where this media house is casting its lots.
While People Daily and K24 do not control much audience and opinion in their respective niches, Mediamax’s bargaining power lies in Kameme FM, a popularly Kikuyu radio station, and Milele FM, which has significant national audience.
4. CAPE MEDIA
Cape Media runs TV47, a recent entrant into the broadcast media. The television station has been gaining ground in TV news coverage and hopes to leverage on elections to gain more audience. The TV station is struggling to be unbiased and often has to favour the system given the fact that its owner, Prof Simon Gicharu, works for government as the chairman of the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC). TV47 thus finds itself between the tough choices of building a brand and supporting its owner’s boss.
5. RADIO AFRICA GROUP
Owned and controlled by Ghanaian entrepreneur Patrick Quarcoo, Radio Africa unsuccessfully tries to hide its political preferences. But from its Star newspaper coverage and tone, it comes out a sympathizer of Deputy President William Ruto.
Radio Africa also runs Classic 105 and Radio Jambo, which are top in their market segments, as well as Kìss FM, among others. There is talk of Ruto owing shares in the media company but this has no been independently verified.
6. KENYA BROADCASTING CORPORATION
For State-owned KBC, the choice is as obvious as its ownership. With most government officers, including cabinet secretaries, activated to support President Uhuru’s choice, KBC is, for once, supporting Raila Odinga. It will do so as long as Uhuru supports Raila. It covers Ruto but its focus – on most of its radio stations is to promote candidate Raila.